MLB’s top prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League (AFL), begins its 15th season on Tuesday, October 10. Its regular season continues through November 16, with the championship game two days later.
This year, a group of top Cardinals prospects will participate as members of the Peoria Saguaros, along with players from the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Washington Nationals organizations. There are five other clubs in the League, each with players drawn from five MLB organizations. All teams are located in the Phoenix area.
Each organization will be sending seven players to the AFL this year, with the Cardinals’ group consisting of four pitchers, an infielder and two outfielders.
* Top 40 ranking from stlcardinals.scout.com in January
All of the Cardinals players were selected from the ranks of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, with the exception of the rehabbing Brendan Ryan, who was listed as being from Palm Beach (A) at the time of his selection.
The Cardinals’ AFL contingent also includes one member of the team’s supporting personnel, trainer Brad LaRosa.
Former major league player Randy Ready will be the skipper of the Saguaros. Ready, a 19-year veteran of professional baseball as a player, logged time with five different organizations during his 13 seasons in the Majors. Ready is in his second season as the manager of the Fort Wayne Wizards (A).
If you might have thought the Arizona Fall League is just a bunch of no-names unworthy of your consideration, think again.
The AFL has a proven player developmental track record and has seen many future Cardinals participate, including J.D. Drew (’96), Eli Marrero (’96), Kerry Robinson (‘97-’98), the still-unknown Albert Pujols (’00) and So Taguchi (’02). Other notable AFL alums include MLB All-Stars Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, Todd Helton and Nomar Garciaparra.
Six current major league managers, including Dusty Baker and Terry Francona, built their managing skills there. In fact, since 1982, over 1000 players and 17 managers have graduated to the majors from the AFL.
The idea of concentrating all the teams in one area is intended to minimize travel and allow time for coaching and development. In recent years, fewer big-name pitchers have participated in the AFL, perhaps due to more enlightenment on preserving young arms. But, the bats have been out in full-force, making the League a showcase for many top hitting prospects.
It is also worth noting that not all the best prospects play, as each group of five organizations has to work together to build a balanced team, including the requisite numbers of catchers, shortstops, etc.
The AFL’s primary focus is on Double-A players on their way up, but each organization is also allowed to include one of their best from the Single-A level. For example, in 2005, the Cardinals sent Andy Cavazos, Cory Doyne, Chris Lambert, Cody Haerther, Travis Hanson and Gabe Johnson, all from Springfield, plus Rich Scalamandre from Palm Beach.
All League games will take place at one of five venues - the Peoria Sports Complex, Surprise Stadium, Mesa’s HoHoKam Stadium, Scottsdale Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium - all located in the Phoenix metro area. The Saguaros’ home park is the Peoria Sports Complex.
For those who plan to be in the area, individual game tickets are low-priced ($6) and always readily available. Inexpensive season passes are also already on sale. Games are played Monday through Saturday, with no contests on Sunday.
Last season, regularly scheduled evening games were added to the previous afternoon-only focused schedule, allowing a double daily dose for those who want to check out many of the next generation of major leaguers. Full league schedules are located here: 2006 AFL schedule
For those unable to attend in person, every AFL game can be tracked via the animated pitch-by-pitch capability provided by minorleaguebaseball.com’s (a.k.a. MiLB.com's) Gameday function.
Expected to return in 2006 is an AFL "Game of the Day" broadcast over the internet every weekday from Opening Day through the championship game, also delivered by MiLB.com.
For further information, check out the Official AFL website.
And as always, stlcardinals.scout.com will visit the Arizona Fall League, providing first-hand reports on the Cardinals prospects playing for the Peoria Saguaros this October and November.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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